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When we mention the Bay of Islands of New Zealand, many people would be familiar with Paihia and its surrounding sandy beaches and dive sites. But the best thing to do in Paihia is actually exploring the Bay of Islands by boat.

We visited Paihia as a part of a North Island road trip with our toddler once before and was only able to stay for a night. This weekend, we’re driving straight to Paihia to explore the beautiful Bay of Islands by boat.

In this post, we’ll take you on a road trip from Auckland to Paihia, stopping along the way to discover some of the hidden gems in Northland. Then, we’ll cover the top things to do in Paihia and go into details on the Discover the Bay cruise inclusions. Finally, we’ll take you to Otehei Bay, Russel, Kerikeri and experience the best of the Bay of Islands with or without kids.

If you’re looking to stay overnight in Paihia or Russell, which we highly recommend, by the way, head on over and browse through the different types of accommodation in the Bay of Islands in this post.

Paihia Bay of Islands Russell Kerikeri Northland New Zealand Travel Guide Road Trip with Baby Kids Featured

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New Zealand Travel Guides by Region: North Island

Northland: Paihia | Tutukaka Coast | Whangarei
Auckland: Clevedon Coast | Matakana Coast | Waiheke Island | Waitakere Ranges
Waikato: Coromandel | Hamilton | Raglan
Bay of Plenty: Rotorua
Taranaki: Egmont National Park
Manawatu-Manganui: Tongariro

Road Trip from Auckland to Paihia

Depending on the route you’re taking, there are many destinations worth stopping on the road trip from Auckland to Paihia:

  • First, you’ll most likely go past the beaches on the Hibiscus Coast, then to Warkworth on the Matakana Coast.
  • From there, you’ll either take the highway straight to the Bay of Islands, or you might decide to spend a night or two at Mangawhai and explore Waipu.
  • Further up north, Whangarei is a hot destination on its own or if you’re more interested in sightseeing, then make a detour to the Tutukaka Coast before reaching Paihia.

Click on the relevant links above if you’re interested in reading more on these destinations.

Things-To-Do-in-Paihia-Road-Trip-from-Auckland-to-Paihia Tutukaka

© Photos by Kida

Kawiti Glow Worm Caves

Many travellers go past Kawakawa without knowing there’s a little hidden gem here. The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves is the most affordable glow worm caves we’ve come across in New Zealand. The glow-worm cave is small but it’s a unique experience for the whole family.

© Photos by Kida

Bay of Islands Oysters

Address: 5323 State Highway 1, Kawakawa 0210 (Google Map)

A couple of minutes back on the highway, you’ll drive past Bay of Islands Oysters. If you’re an oyster lover and have kids-in-tow, pull up at Johnson Park to keep them busy at the playground while you indulge in fresh oysters before getting to Paihia.

Bay of Islands Oysters

© Photos by Kida

Top Things To Do in Paihia

You may have heard of the world-famous Hole in the Rock in Paihia. Also known as Motu Kōkako or Piercy Island, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions here. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins and other wildlife in the Bay of Islands. So if you don’t go out on the waters in Paihia, you haven’t seen the real Bay of Islands.

© Photos by Kida

Being by the water, there are many water activities to do, such as snorkelling tours. Hire a jet ski or book a scenic helicopter flight to Hole in the Rock! Paihia is the ultimate playground for beach and ocean lovers.

Paihia is also a vibrant touristy spot with trendy restaurants, shops, parks, beaches and affordable accommodation. We stayed at Dolphin Motel – a 4-star motel very close to the hub of Paihia. You can read about Paihia Accommodation in this post to see which one suits your family.

© Photos by Kida

If you walk around Paihia, you’ll most definitely wander into Paihia Lanes where you’ll discover boutique shops and trendy restaurants.

© Photos by Kida

Hole in the Rock Cruise

Hole in the Rock is a must-see attraction in the Bay of Islands, and unless you’re going for a helicopter tour, the best way to see Hole in the Rock is by going on a cruise!

Paihia Discover the Bay Cruise

We went with Discover the Bay Cruise after finding an amazing deal of about a 40% discount on BookMe. If you’re also interested in doing a cruise in Paihia, it’s worth browsing through the activities and deals websites to see if you can spot any relevant deals.

It was such an awesome day out on the water with our 2 years old toddler. Not only we got to see the best of Paihia and the Bay of Islands, but we also had a chance to explore Russel. The staff onboard the Discover the Bay Cruise were attentive, fun and super friendly. It was a jam-packed day for our family but it was relaxing at the same time.

© Photos by Kida

Here are some of the highlights of Discover the Bay Cruise:

  • Cruise among the 144 beautiful islands with commentaries.
  • Buffet lunch at Otehei Bay, with options to swim, hike or kayak.
  • Travel through the iconic Hole in the Rock with lots of photo opportunities.
  • Free drop off and return ferry ticket to Russel.

© Photos by Kida

Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island

I had never heard of Otehei Bay or Urupukapuka Island before we went on the Discover the Bay Cruise, and we didn’t expect much apart from a buffet lunch that was promised. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful islands in New Zealand!

Otehei Bay is so pristine and beautiful, it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the Bay of Islands! Urupukapuka Island has its very own café and bar, where some of the staff that work there actually live on the island.

Otehei Bay hosts events and functions throughout the year, such as weddings and the popular Otehei Bay New Year’s Eve party.

© Photos by Kida

We had a scrumptious buffet lunch out on the beach that included generous servings of salads, roast vegetables, chicken drumsticks, and barbecue meat. Our toddler had a blast splashing in the water with her new friends.

If you’re not travelling with kids or don’t mind a quick walk around the bay, there are trails that you can explore while waiting for lunch to be ready.

© Photos by Kida

📖 You might be interested in

Family accommodation in Paihia – from budget to luxury


It might surprise you that Russell is actually New Zealand’s first capital city back in the 1840s. Sitting right on the waterfront of this historic village is New Zealand’s very first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant – The Duke of Marlborough, that is still operating today.

© Photos by Kida

The Duke of Marlborough also offers exquisite waterfront rooms if you wish to stay in Russel for the night.

Another point of interest is the New Zealand’s oldest surviving church – Christ Church is also located here in Russell.

Russell Christ Church
Christ Church, Russell

© Photos by Kida

You can visit Russell Museum to learn more about the history of this unique little town. There are many boutique shops in Russell, but with the limited time we had in Russell, we decided to try the best hot chocolate at Newport Chocolates!

In all honesty, as delicious and indulgent as those chocolates were, they were also very very expensive. And we felt the customer service of Newport Chocolates didn’t quite match up to the premium brand and prices either.

© Photos by Kida

We decided to relax by the waterfront for the rest of our time here in Russell while waiting for our exhausted toddler to wake up from her nap after this long day with Discover the Bay Cruise.

Russell Harbour Toddler Asleep Bay of Islands
Not in a rush, really.

© Photos by Kida

Haruru Falls

Just 6 minutes by car from Paihia, is a little hidden gem. Haruru Falls is one of my favourite waterfalls of all time. It’s easily accessible and only requires a short walk to get up close to the waterfall. And I mean really close, like you can literally sit at the top of the waterfall!

© Photos by Kida

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of the most important historic sites in New Zealand. If there is one museum that you can visit to learn all about New Zealand and Maori culture, Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the one.

Visit the Treaty Grounds by booking for a skip the line pass, and stay for a Maori cultural show. If you have never tried hangi before, make sure you book the Hangi & Concert combo package, where you can experience authentic Maori cuisine cooking at its best in an earth oven.

Kerikeri Rainbow Falls

Yes, we have one more waterfall to visit! Kerikeri Rainbow Falls is very similar to Whangarei Falls. It’s an easy 10-minutes hike to the swimming hole at the base of the falls.

© Photos by Kida

Kerikeri Charlie’s Rock

Charlie’s Rock is not really a major attraction in the Bay of Islands, but rather a local’s favourite playground. You can see kids playing in the natural pools formed by the lake and have a little peace and quiet to yourself. It’s a little hidden gem worth a visit if you’re in Kerikeri.

Kerikeri Charlie’s Rock, Northland, New Zealand

© Photos by Kida

Road Trips from Auckland: North

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